"-Thank you for inviting me"
1 Bill Siksay MP (Burnaby-Douglas) NDP Citizenship and Immigration Critic Speech to the Career Training and Employment Fair Choi Hall, Dorothy Lam Building, Vancouver Saturday, 16 June 2007 Note: I was asked by the organizers to speak for ten minutes at the opening ceremonies on the issue of international credentials. However, it was clear at the event that folks really wanted to have conversations with potential employers and potential employees, and that long speeches just weren’t a good idea. Instead I welcomed visitors, wished them good luck in finding jobs and employees, and suggested they visit my web site to read the speech I wanted to make. This is the text of the speech I prepared. I want to thank the organizers for inviting me. I’d also like to bring greetings from the Parliament of Canada, and especially from my NDP colleagues on the Lower Mainland, Libby Davies, Peter Julian, Dawn Black, and Penny Priddy, and our leader, Jack Layton. I want to thank the sponsoring groups for the work you do. The Association of Chinese Canadian 2 Professionals was key to organizing this event and has shown great leadership in the community. SUCCESS provides assistance to thousands of people, helping every day in so many different ways. And I want to thank Sing Tao, for its commitment to the people of the Lower Mainland and its excellent coverage of the events of the day that are important to our community. I’ve been asked to say a few words about the recognition of international credentials. This is clearly a serious problem here in Canada. People here today know the terrible cost of failing to recognize the education and experience of foreign trained professionals. There is a personal cost-it’s a spiritual crisis when people can’t do the work to which they feel called or work in professions that they have worked so hard to join. But there is also the huge economic cost in the billions of dollars to the Canadian economy. There is also the cost to the reputation of our country and to our immigration programme, as the word gets around of the difficulty of working in Canada. And we must not forget the cost to countries 3 around the world as professionals who are desperately needed and often in short supply are scooped up by Canada and then not allowed to work in their field when they arrive here. Solutions seem to have eluded successive Canadian governments. I acknowledge that it is a complicated problem of competing jurisdictions. There are apparently at least 14 federal departments, 10 provinces with multiple departments, self-governing professional associations, unions, colleges, and universities who all have an interest or jurisdiction in this matter. It has often felt to me, in the time I’ve been in Ottawa, that government often threw its hands up in the air in frustration at the complexity and then gave up on finding a solution. It should be acknowledged that the current government has taken a step. The opposition politician in me wants to say a small step and a step that was less than I think we understood they promised at the last election, but they have at least done something. They’ve established a Foreign Credentials Referral Office and with some 4 accompanying programmes such as phone service, services through Service Canada offices, better online information, and increased assistance to employers. They’ve also set up some overseas services with pilot projects in India, China, and the Philippines to assist folks before they arrive in Canada. These are good if limited things. I would contend that more immigrant professionals haven’t been stymied in getting work in their field because they haven’t been able to find out which doors to knock on. They haven’t been stymied by a lack of referrals. They’ve been stymied because when they knock on a door it either doesn’t open for them, or it closes quickly behind them. So a Referral Agency really begs the question of the problem. What to do instead? We need programmes--permanent programmes-- that actually put people to work and actually provided jobs. We’ve had many terrific pilot projects that have paired immigrants with employers, often leading to full time job offers at 5 the end of the project. We’ve had terrific mentorship and bridging programmes that have helped immigrant professionals establish the kind of network they actually helps them make the connections that lead to a job. We need more residencies and internships, because we know that when foreign professionals get the foot in the door it is possible for them to work in their field. We need to turn pilot projects into permanent, well- funded programmes. And we need increased resources for English as a Second Language training at a professional level-this barrier can be solved, but it requires an investment on the part of the government. We also need programmes that work with Canadian employers so they appreciate the benefits of hiring foreign trained professionals. But we also need to look at the point system in our immigration application process. We can’t afford to waste the talents and education of foreign trained professionals. If we will not let them work in Canada, we must stop giving them the points in the immigration point system that facilitates their arrival in Canada. It’s unfair and unjust to do so. 6 The point system and application process amounts to a promise-we promise that education and skills and experience are valued by Canada, and then we reneg on that promise when immigrants aren’t allowed to work in their field. We must fix that problem. We could tie points to ability to work in Canada as we have done before and make the link between points and actual ability to go to work on arrival in Canada. We must maintain our commitment to immigration. There is renewed emphasis on temporary foreign workers in Canada. Their numbers are growing dramatically. But one of Canada’s great successes in immigration is that we, perhaps more than any other country, have encouraged immigration, we’ve encouraged permanent residency and we’ve then encouraged immigrants and permanent residents to become citizens of Canada. It is my understanding that our rate of turning permanent residents into citizens is twice that of the United States, for example. This is something to be proud of. 7 Canada has also avoided the problems of European countries who have had guest worker policies. These policies have failed to develop a sense of attachment for newcomers to their new country of residence, and an attachment beyond the exploitation of labour between the country and the guest worker. The result has been many social problems and even unrest, that are far from our experience in Canada. We must maintain our commitment to immigration that leads to citizenship over guest worker programmes. Canada can afford to increase the number of immigrants we accept each year, and we should do so immediately. The issue of the recognition of foreign credentials and the overall success of our immigration programme is crucial for immigrants to Canada. But it is also crucial to Canada. We know that all growth in the job market will come strictly from immigration by the middle of the next decade, and we know that all population growth will come solely from immigration by the 2020s. Our economy and our social programmes 8 directly depend on the success of our immigration programme. We must find a solution to the serious problems that face our immigration system. Failure already has disastrous consequences for many individuals who can’t work in their chosen field. Continued failure will have disastrous consequences for Canada. None of these problems are insurmountable. I know everyone here is ready to be part of the solution. Thank you again for inviting. Have a terrific Career Training and Employment Fair, and good luck in finding a great job and a terrific employee.